- - Friday, October 24, 2014


“Government has been cut to the bone.” How many times have we heard that? Republicans and Democrats alike don their sackcloth and ashes, bemoaning the “sacrifices” and “tough choices” they’ve made. All the while, actual expenditures continue to rise. It’s a farce repeated every year.

Departing Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has been one of the few who refuse to play the dishonest game. Instead of pretending that the nation is living in a time of government austerity, he demonstrates otherwise with his annual “Washington Wastebook,” a chronicle of the year’s most ludicrous uses of the citizens’ dollars.

“Every year taxpayers, regardless of their personal political leanings,” says Mr. Coburn, “raise their eyebrows and shake their heads in disbelief at how billions of dollars that could be been better spent — or not spent at all — were squandered.”

If his colleagues had listened, they could have eliminated every program in Mr. Coburn’s chronicles, restoring billions to the Treasury. But even the most useless government extravagances are treated as sacred cows. Congress defends these cows with the ferocity of a Hindu priest.

Wastebook 2014 highlights a group of rabbits that received Swedish massages in a federally funded study of whether these techniques might help athletes recover from a sports injury. After living a life of luxury on the massage table, these rabbits were eventually euthanized along with the $387,000 of the taxpayers’ money that paid for this nonsense.

It’s an old scam. The National Science Foundation once paid $560,000 to put shrimp on a treadmill, but the experiment only proved life is no cocktail for the shrimp. The scientists then put mountain lions on the treadmill to study the power of their pounce. That experiment was presumably done very carefully, and it cost of $856,000. An angry mountain lion is far more formidable than an irritated shrimp.

The National Endowment for the Arts, a perennial Wastebook favorite, staged a production of “Zombies in Love” through a grant to the Oregon Children’s Theatre. This was a musical about a teenage zombie “dying to find true love.” Every parent of teenagers knows there’s a short sell-by date on teenage love, but real teenagers are rarely zombies. Their music keeps them (and the neighbors) awake. This was one musical that never made it even to New Haven.

Most baby boomers try to forget the hippie past of pet rocks and mood rings, but the U.S. government is eager to live through it again by supporting the Vermont Historical Society’s documentation of the “nudity, psychedelic drugs and free love” of an age now mercifully past.

Government wastrels sink as low as they must go, and the Department of Agriculture has a scheme to market manure in something called “Perfect Poop Paks.” This could be coordinated with the “free” high-end gym memberships for Department of Homeland Security bureaucrats and a $3 billion “golf club experiment” on the International Space Station. A hook there might go all the way to Mars, a slice to Pluto. The government gets no mulligan here.

These examples should come to mind the next time a congressman claims that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can’t fight Ebola effectively because the CDC budget has been trimmed. Billions could be recovered by going through the entire federal budget line-by-line, as President Obama once promised to do. Anything that flunks the smell test goes.

Mr. Coburn tries to do that with his Wastebook, but he’ll be going back to Oklahoma in early January. He’ll be missed, but one of the new senators should take up his cudgel to strike again. And again.

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